OK, guys, chill.
On Wednesday, researcher Maya Forstater lost an employment arbitration case in London after being fired for expressing the belief that "it is impossible to change sex." (Andrew Sullivan believes the same thing, but as a Tory and a cis-gendered gay man apparently when he says it no one freaks out.)
Author JK Rowling Tweeted out a narrow bit of support for Forstater:
What constitutes gender and what constitutes sex are, to put it mildly, controversial topics. And in a free society, we have to be free to have that debate. That is Rowling's point.
But in the last few days, a good chunk of the Left has lost its collective mind. Rowling has received scathing criticism for her Tweet, as if the last three words suddenly make people think trans wizards wouldn't be welcome at Hogwarts. (You remember that the school had a gay headmaster for fifty years, right?)
But my god, read the words. Rowling is defending free speech, period. (She also defends the rights of people to live "in peace and security," something all of us probably agree with.) Nowhere in the Tweet does Rowling express agreement with Forstater's views. And even if she does...maybe persuasion might help change them? Because militant condemnation won't.
One of the long-held principles of the gay-rights movement has been that it’s wrong to fire someone just because they’re gay. Now, one of the principles of the LGBTQ movement is that it’s fine to fire someone if they disagree in the slightest with every claim of gender ideology.
This shift from a “live and let live” to a “do what I say or else” movement is one reason I don’t identify with this activism any more. I loathe the idea of forcing people to say things they don’t believe, demonizing and ostracizing them for their dissent, and enshrining in law penalties for wrongthink. I am very happy to live alongside people whose faith makes them consider me a sinner. As long as they cannot touch a hair on my head or use the law to punish me for what I believe and how I live, I’m fine. But that pluralist worldview is anathema to the “social justice” movement, as it proves every single day.
It’s vital to note that Forstater is prepared to treat any trans woman as a woman in real life, defends trans people’s rights to define themselves as they wish, has not been charged with any kind of harassment or in-person abuse, is happy to accept anyone’s adoption of any of a thousand possible genders, but simply refuses to say what she doesn’t believe: that sex can be chosen or assigned, rather than simply observed as a matter of biology. “I accept everybody’s gender identity; I just do not believe it overrides their sex,” she told the court. “I refuse to believe human beings can change their sex.” This view — almost universally held for millennia until five minutes ago, and rooted in the plain facts of science — is now, the court ruled, subject to legal sanction. Such a view is “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others“ and “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” So anyone expressing an opinion like Forstater’s can be fired with no recourse.
My point in wading into this mess is simply that without free debate, the Right will win every time. The entire point of liberalism is that ideas must be free, even bad ideas, even hateful ideas. Stifling expression must be rare and well-thought (e.g., "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing panic"). If we, on the Left, give in to the idea that sometimes it's OK to censor speech we don't like, the Right will run with that to an extreme we haven't seen in the English-speaking world for centuries.
We have a long way to go to settle questions about sex and gender. I've been thinking about these questions for 35 years and I'm no closer to answers than I was in 1985. Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, and you aren't close, either. And I guarantee you that neither Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, nor I will ever discriminate against someone on the basis of sex, gender, or identity.
Seriously. Let's chill for a bit and not eat our own.